Project management in the scope of both software and business classical projects is not easy. In the book Everyday Project Management, Jeff the author, explains deeply the mission of the project manager and some practices to avoid failure in his end-goal. A good certified project manager needs to know their goals and mission. This is the only way to succeed in his plans and management strategy.
In this chapter, you learn the importance of fully understanding the project, which kinds of projects lend themselves to project management, and why it’s vital to start with the end in mind.
Project management has a Technical Side and a People Side
Project managers come in many varieties, but in boiling down the two primary characteristics of project managers, they are
- A project manager’s ability to lead a team. This is largely dependent on the managerial and personal characteristics of the project manager.
- A project manager’s background, skills, experience, and overall ability in handling critical project issues.
If you could only pick one set of attributes for a project manager—either being good at the people side of managing projects or being good at the technical side of managing projects—which might you suppose, over the broad span of the projects ever undertaken, has proven to be more valuable? You guessed it, the people side.
In his authoritative book, Information Systems Project Management, author Jolyon Hallows observes, “Hard though it might be to admit, the people side of projects is more important than the technical side. Those who are anointed or appointed as project managers because of their technical capability have to overcome the temptation of focusing on technical issues rather than the people or political issue that invariably becomes paramount to project success.”
If you are managing the project alone, you can remain as technically oriented as you like. Even on a solo project, given that you will end up having to report to others, the people’s side doesn’t entirely go away. Your ability to relate to the authorizing party, fellow project managers, and any staff people who might only tangentially be supporting your efforts can spell the difference between success and failure for your project.
Key Questions for the project managers
In determining what you seek to accomplish, it’s crucial to understand your project on several dimensions by asking key questions of yourself, including
- “Do I know the project’s justification?” Why do others deem this project to be important? If you work in a large organization, this means determining why the authorizing party initiated the project and, perhaps, whom he or she had to influence prior to your being summoned.
- “Do I comprehend the project’s background?” The project does not exist in a vacuum. Probe to ascertain what has previously been accomplished in this area, if anything. If the project encompasses a new method or procedure, what came before it? Is the project of high priority within your organization, or not crucial to operations?
- “Do I fully understand the politics associated with the project?” Politics, in a nutshell, is the relationship of two or more people with one another, including the degree of power and influence that the parties have over one another. So, who will be supportive? Who might not want the project to succeed and possibly be resistant? Who benefits from the project’s success? Who might benefit if the project fails?
- “Do I know the players and their roles?” Who will be contributing their effort and expertise to the project? Who will be a bystander? Who will be indifferent?
Nearly every project involves a mix of individuals with differing concerns, values, methods, philosophies, and priorities. A key objective as a project manager, in regards to what you seek to accomplish, is to ensure that the project team maintains coherence and propels the project forward. Otherwise, chaos could ensue.
What Are We Attempting to Do?
A postmortem of failed projects reveals that often these projects were begun “on the run,” rather than taking a measured approach to determining exactly what needs to be accomplished. Too many projects start virtually in motion, before a precise definition of what needs to be achieved is even concocted. As the old adage says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
In some organizations, projects are routinely rushed from the beginning. Project managers and teams are given near-impossible deadlines, and the only alternative is for the project players to throw their time and energy at the project, working late into the evening and on weekends. All of this is in the vainglorious attempt to produce results in record time and have “something” to show to top management, a client, the VP of product development, the sales staff, or whomever.
Teams that start in a rush, and accelerate the pace from there, run the risk of being more focused on producing a deliverable instead of the deliverable. The solution is to define precisely what needs to be done and then to stick to the course of action that will lead to accomplishing that goal. In properly defining the project, a few basic self-directed questions help, including the following:
- Have the project deliverables been earmarked? When completed, the deliverables (see Chapter 3, “So You’re Going to Manage a Project?”), analogous to outcomes, indicate that the project team is addressing the challenges or handling the issues for which they were assembled.
- Has the scope been established? This involves pinpointing the exact level of effort needed for all parts of the project. Plotting the scope and required effort on a wall chart or with project management software is desirable (the topic of Chapters 9 through 12).
- How will the deliverables be reviewed and approved? Producing a deliverable on time is commendable, but if you do not understand the criteria employed by the reviewing body, you could run into trouble. The best practice is to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the outset, regarding what is to be accomplished.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, once said that if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he would spend six hours sharpening the saw. It pays to spend more time at the outset than some project managers are willing to spend to determine the deliverables’ review and approval processes to which the project manager and project team will be subject.
Tasks Versus Outcomes
A recurring problem surrounding the issue of “What needs to be accomplished?” is overfocusing on the project’s tasks, as opposed to the project’s desired outcome. Project managers who jump into a project too quickly sometimes become enamored by bells and whistles associated with project tasks, rather than critically identifying the specific, desired results that the overall project should achieve. The antidote to this trap is to start with the end in mind, an age-old method for ensuring that the project activities are related to the desired outcome.
Some veteran project managers might ask,“How could one have a clear vision of the desired end in sight, or a specific time frame at a specific cost? What if it’s not feasible to start with an end in sight?” The short answer: Do your best. By forming a clear vision of the desired end, decisions made by the project staff along the trail will have a higher probability of being in alignment with the desired end. That desired end is not nebulous. It can be accurately described. It is targeted to be achieved within a specific time frame and at a specific cost.
The end is quantifiable. It meets the challenge or solves the problem for which the project management team was originally assembled. It often pays to start from the actual ending date of a project and work back to the present, indicating the tasks and subtasks you need to undertake and when you need to undertake them.
Starting from the ending date of a project is a useful procedure, because when you proceed in reverse, you establish realistic interim goals that serve as project target dates.
In working on projects with professional service firms, one consultant I know asks, “How will you and I know when I have done the job to your satisfaction?” Some clients are disarmed by this question; they have not been asked it before. Inevitably, answers begin to emerge. Clients will say things such as
- Our record-keeping costs will decline by 10% from those of last year.
- We will receive five new client inquiries per week, starting this week.
- For at least two years, we will retain a higher percentage of our new recruits than occurred with our previous recruiting class.
- At least 15% of the proposals we write will result in signed contracts, as opposed to our traditional norm of 11%.
The questions above can be adapted by project managers. For example, “How will my project team and I know that we have completed the project to the satisfaction of those charged with assessing our efforts?” Here’s another vital question for project managers who seek success: “Imagine that we’ve completed this project for you: What are you now able to accomplish?”
The Wide Application of Project Management
In business, many pursuits can be handled by applying project management principles. If you work for a large manufacturing, sales, or engineering concern, especially in this competitive age, worthwhile projects abound; for example:
- To reduce inventory holding costs by 25% by creating more effective, just-in-time inventory delivery systems
- To comply fully with environmental regulations, while holding operating costs to no more than 1% of the company’s three-year norm
- To reduce the average “time to market” for new products from 182 to 85 days
- To increase the average longevity of employees from 2.5 years to 2.75 years
- To open an office in Atlanta and have it fully staffed by the 15th of next month
Project management checklist for a small firm and service
If you are in a personal service firm, one of the many projects that you could entertain might include the following:
- To attain five new appointments per month with qualified prospects
- To initiate a complete proposal process system by June 30
- To design, test, and implement the XYZ research project in this quarter
- To develop preliminary need scenarios in our five basic target industries
- To assemble our initial contact mailing package and test mail within 10 days
Project management checklist for the large enterprise
If you are an entrepreneur or work in an entrepreneurial firm, the types of projects you might tackle include the following:
- To find three joint-venture partners within the next quarter
- To replace the phone system within one month without any service disruption
- To reduce delivery expense by 18% by creating less complex delivery routes
- To create a database and dossier of our 10 most active clients
- To develop a coordinated 12-month advertising plan
Finally, if you are working alone, or simply seeking to rise in your career, the kinds of projects you could tackle include the following:
◾ To earn $52,000 in the next 12 months
◾ To be transferred to the Hong Kong division of the company by next April
◾ To have a regular column in the company blog or employee newsletter by next quarter
◾ To be mentioned in Wired magazine in this calendar year
◾ To publish your first book within six months
Notice that all the examples above include metrics. As manager, you become the human representative for the project: Think of it as taking on a life of its own, with you as its spokesperson. At times, you might have to be a nudge, or tighten expectations. Project management involving others is not for the meek!
Conclusions for project managers
- Many project managers have an inclination to leap into the project at top speed, without precisely defining what needs to be accomplished and how project deliverables will be assessed by others who are critical to the project’s success.
- People represent the critical element in the accomplishment of projects. People-oriented project managers tend to fare better than task-oriented ones. A people-oriented project manager can learn elements of task management. Contrarily, task-oriented managers might find it hard to become people-oriented managers.
- It pays to start with the end in mind, to attain a clear focus of what is to be achieved, and to better guide the decisions and activities undertaken by members of the project team.
- To know if you’re on track, ask the telling question, “How will you and I know when I have done the job?”
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